SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In an ongoing legal dispute over the ability of New Mexico counties and cities to set their own abortion rules, the state’s highest court has ordered a pause on several existing local ordinances. However, that doesn’t mean the matter is settled.
The legal battle goes back to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision that overturned Roe V. Wade. Following that, several local communities (Roosevelt County, Lea County, Hobbs, and Clovis) passed local ordinances related to abortion and reproductive healthcare. Those are the same ordinances the New Mexico Supreme Court is now pausing.
For example, the City of Clovis amended its city code. This made it “unlawful for any person or business entity to open or operate an abortion clinic with the municipal boundaries of the City without first obtaining a license.” To apply for that license, individuals and businesses must submit a name, address, phone number, map, a ‘compliance statement,’ and a brief description of the types of abortions to be performed. The ordinance reiterates that people must comply with federal law and that sending abortion medication via mail may violate the law, according to a copy of the ordinance filed with the courts.
Addressing such local ordinances, New Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Torrez asked the state’s court system to intervene and put a pause on what he called “unconstitutional overreach.” Now, Torrez’s ask has been granted. The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered that those local ordinances “shall have no effect until further order of the Court.”
After the order from the state’s Supreme Court, Attorney General Torrez called the news a “very positive sign” in his push to address the local ordinances that he claims violate state law. “The order by the Supreme Court advances the fight to ensure that New Mexico remains a safe haven for women seeking reproductive healthcare,” Torrez said in a press release.
Even so, some officials from the communities that enacted these local ordinances said they were simply acting to support the desires of the people of the community.
“The elected officials here, the City Commission, felt it important that they act on what the community was asking them to do in enacting that ordinance,” Mike Morris, the mayor of Clovis, told KRQE News 13.
When asked what comes next for Clovis, following the state Supreme Court’s order, Morris said it’s up to the involved lawyers to direct what happens next, but regardless, he asked for respect between supporters of both sides of the debate over abortion.
“This is a very emotionally charged issue, close to most hearts on both sides of the issue, and I think what’s most important as we navigate this is that we show respect to both sides of the argument and that we not allow it to divide New Mexicans,” Morris said. “I think New Mexicans value family, and value life, and certainly value loving our neighbor, and so, as difficult of a conversation and situation as it has to navigate, let’s not lose that spirit that makes us New Mexicans. Let’s get to the right place and do the right thing for one another.”
The latest news from the court doesn’t mean the fight over abortion-related ordinances is over. The New Mexico Supreme Court has asked both sides to file more documents in order to assess how a recently created reproductive healthcare law might impact the debate, and it’s still possible that the state’s Supreme Court could ultimately decide to allow the local ordinances to go back into effect.
The order from the Supreme Court also asks each side to file briefs on how these ordinances affect a newly signed law known as the Reproductive and Gender Affirming Health Care Freedom Act or House Bill 7.
“I think what you will see is a two-part argument that’s presented to the Supreme Court that says there’s not only a constitutional basis, but now, there’s a clear and unambiguous statutory basis for making sure that this fundamental right is protected in every community across the state,” Torrez said. “My hope is that will put to rest the question about whether or not New Mexico is a state that will continue to protect a woman’s right to control her own body and to control the most fundamental question about her health and her future.”
These arguments are due to the Supreme Court on April 20. KRQE News 13 reached out to officials in the counties and cities involved.
One Hobbs commissioner told KRQE News 13 they are disappointed by this development but were expecting it. Other officials did not respond for comment and said they would have to confer with their attorneys about the next steps.